Getting braces is a rite of passage that most of my middle schoolers go through, and it can be a frustrating time for musicians who are just starting to listen to themselves and self-analyze their playing.
Having had braces myself, I can sympathize with the feelings of frustration that come with trying to play flute with a whole bunch of metal in your mouth. Here's my best advice for flutists who are staring down the barrel of a shiny new set of orthodontia:
1.) Buy braces wax! This non-toxic, minty wax is available at most drugstores and grocery stores in the dental aisle, and putting it over your braces will protect the insides of your lips and cheeks from chafing while you play.
2.) Be prepared to adjust your embouchure. The extra bulk between your lower teeth and lip will shift the direction of your air stream, so you might find that you need to roll the headjoint more toward or away from you to get the air stream to hit the edge of the embouchure hole just right. You may also have to place the flute higher or lower on your bottom lip.
3.) Be prepared to sound fuzzy. While you're figuring out your new headjoint-lip relationship, your sound will likely be unfocused since the air stream isn't being aimed properly. This is not a failing on your part, nor are you getting worse at the flute. It's simply a byproduct of your mouth adjusting to a new embouchure.
4.) Be patient! This is a huge transition. There will be days, especially after your orthodontic appointments, when your mouth is simply too sore to make it through a practice session. If this happens, use that day to study scores, listen to recordings, and research the historical significance of the pieces you're studying.
The good news is that once you get used to having braces, your sound will return to normal. It's a temporary challenge, but the results are worth it.
It's been a couple weeks since I posted my New Year's resolutions for the studio (you can read the original post here) so I thought I'd write a quick update about how they're going.
Resolution #1: Go for quality, not quantity.
How it's going: I've taken a step back from posting so much; my goal was to write something every Sunday, but it seems more appropriate to wait until I have something really worth sharing rather than to try to come up with filler if I have writer's block. I still try to get something new on here once a week, but the schedule has relaxed somewhat.
Speaking of relaxing, that leads me to the other goal I tackled in the last couple weeks:
Resolution #3: Take some time to unwind.
How it's going: I've been doing nice things for myself, like cooking delicious meals and spending time with people I enjoy. I've also made it a point to keep a little time set aside to sit and do nothing but relax. Between bartending full time, teaching on the weekends, and walking/biking everywhere I go, my body is grateful for the rest.
Change is tough. It's hard to upset your routine, even if it's for your own good. I'm going to keep posting about how these resolutions are going, and I'd love to hear about your own!
I take extensive notes while I teach, which I then email to my students for their reference throughout the week. (Unpaid endorsement: I use GoodNotes and it's awesome!) Because of this, I don't bother coming up with lesson plans each week for my students. When I first started teaching, I planned out my lessons religiously because I was new and nervous. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to come up with enough activities to fill a whole lesson. This was useful at first because it made me think deeply about what would help my students to improve in their various weak areas.
But over the years, I discovered that it's best to be able to move in any direction needed while teaching one-on-one. If you have an amazing lesson about dynamics planned, but your student asks you for help with articulation, do you bulldoze their needs that week so you can follow the plan? Of course not. The point of private lessons is to meet individual needs, not to follow a set-in-stone curriculum. This being said, it's essential to include all the basics that every musician needs to be able to do: scales, dynamics, basic music theory, healthy posture, knowledge of the instrument's repertoire, and how to take care of the instrument.
So what I like to do now is to follow my students when they show me a specific need, and when they don't have any pressing issues to address, I take that week to work on one of the aforementioned basics. In this way, they feel heard and helped, and I'm able to give them a well-rounded education so they can go forth and be great musicians.
It's 2015! In the spirit of new year's resolutions, I'm making some goals for my studio for the coming year.
1.) Go for quality, not quantity.
I'm going to scale back the blog posts to Sundays only so I can put more time and thought into each post.
2.) Take it back to basics.
I'm going to bring scales, arpeggios, and other basic elements back into every lesson I teach, and help my students see why those things are important.
3.) Take some time to unwind.
I work about 50 hours a week, and it's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind and forget to do things that are fun and relaxing.
4.) Decorate my studio.
I have a few things here and there, but I'd like to make my studio more visually interesting with posters and maybe a potted plant or two.
I think all four of these resolutions are reasonable, beneficial, and most importantly, doable. I'll check in periodically with you all to let you know how they're coming!
When you teach private lessons, it's only a matter of time before one of your students bursts into tears in a lesson. This is a shocking experience the first time around, and I thought I'd share some advice about that today.
Don't take it personally.
Unless you're a jerk, chances are low that you did something to make your student cry. It's far more likely that your student is stressed out or going through some personal issues that are taxing them emotionally.
Provide immediate comfort.
Take care of your student's basic needs of the moment; tissues, a chair to sit down, a glass of water, and a place to put their flute down. After they start to calm down, you can assess the situation.
Ask your student what upset them.
You might get an immediate, clear answer or you might have to dig a little to understand. Either way, if a student reaches the point of tears in a lesson, it's time to take a break and figure out what's going on.
Send an update to the parents.
Shoot the student's guardians a quick email after the lesson to let them know what happened. You don't have to get into details if it doesn't seem appropriate, but you should at least let the parents know that their child was upset in their lesson so they can have a chance to check in.
Hopefully you never have to handle this particular situation in your own studio, but now you'll be prepared if it happens! If you have any tips and tricks for comforting an agitated student, share them in the comments!
I just taught my last lesson before Christmas, and most of my students came in with small presents for me. This happens every year, and every year it surprises me how touching these little gifts are. It really is wonderful to feel like the hard work I put into this studio is worthwhile, and it's so nice to be appreciated.
In the spirit of paying it forward, I want to take a moment to recognize my private teachers:
Cynthia Livingston, my first teacher, taught me from elementary school through mid-high school. She created a warm, welcoming space for me to learn more about the flute and gave me a great foundation in the basics. She also had the extraordinary grace and humility to tell me that she didn't feel like she could adequately prepare me for college auditions and that I should consider working with someone else to give myself the best possible chance.
Berta Frank, my high school teacher, pushed me to explore the music I played in a deeper way and refused to let me sell myself short. She made me work on etudes even when I didn't want to and created a great sense of community among her flute students. She mentored me through my college audition process and I'm certain she had a great deal to do with why I got into the schools I wanted to go to.
Kenneth Andrews, my undergraduate teacher, was a huge influence in my flute career. He absolutely refused to accept excuses, and that taught me to stop making excuses and start working hard to get where I wanted to go. He gave me the incredible gift of the good habits that make all the difference to musicians; timeliness, preparation, and inquiry. I owe him a huge debt.
Vanessa Mulvey, my grad school teacher, was the one who fixed my messed-up shoulder, which allowed me to keep teaching and playing. If not for her and the Body Mapping she taught me, I would have had to live with chronic pain that would most likely have cut my music career short. Instead, she showed me how the muscles and bones in the body move and connect to each other so that I could learn to play in the most efficient way possible. In the process of learning Body Mapping, my shoulder pain was healed. This alone would be a huge gift, but she also taught me to take pleasure in the act of sharing a piece of music with an audience, and how to invite them into my experience rather than trying to forget that they're watching.
I dearly hope that I can make the same sort of difference in my students' lives that my teachers have made in mine.
The last couple months of the year are filled with holidays and school vacations, which often interfere with lesson schedules and student practice time. How do you, as a teacher, balance your students' progress with the reality that they'll be traveling or spending time with family and thus not as likely to spend time practicing during the holidays?
It's tempting, especially when working with older students who are prepping for big auditions, to tell them that their required time is what it is, and that's that. This only leads your students to lie to you about how much time they spent working on their music that week, and that doesn't do anyone any good.
Instead, recognize that in order to get progress out of your students during the patchy holiday lesson schedule, you'll need to plan things out ahead of time and make it easy for your students to continue to work during their vacations.
If I know a student won't see me for a few weeks, I make up a packet of etudes and pieces for them with an instruction sheet on the front indicating what activities I want them to do with those materials. Sometimes I send a weekly email with reminders, helpful articles, and tips about those activities to make sure my student is at least thinking about flute.
Showing your students how many ways they can practice without using the flute also helps keep them engaged in music during the holiday months. Some things they can do include:
So this holiday season, don't despair at the thought of your students backsliding. Instead, take the initiative and show them how to fit practicing into their schedules.
I'm in the middle of a really exciting period of growth and learning these days, both in my studio and my non-musical work. I've always appreciated constructive feedback (there's no way I could have survived music school if I didn't) and I'm interested in your opinions.
I've constructed a brief survey that will help me make this site more useful for you, and each person who takes it will receive an email with a coupon code for a free download of my book, The Conservatory Boot Camp Workbook. I hope to hear from you!
A post I wrote recently got me thinking about how to make your studio a comfortable space for your students. Here's what I've learned since I started teaching:
Playing the flute when your hands are freezing cold or slick with sweat is a tough thing to do. Lessons are a vulnerable time for students; they bring in music they're working on that isn't polished yet and they're asked to try new techniques that might not work perfectly right away. Your students don't need the added challenge of being overheated or chilly. If you have your own teaching space, make sure you set the thermostat appropriately. If you share or rent a space, talk to the owner about making sure the temperature is comfortable.
Your students will come in with varying qualities of sheet music. Some might spring for the lifetime-edition Urtexts that read as clear as day, while others might have a grainy printout from IMSLP. In the case of the latter, your students will need more light to read their music. If possible, invest in a floor lamp that you can move around the studio and invite your students to place it where it's most helpful for reading their music.
This is the element of studio ambiance that teachers tend to have the least control over. You might be lucky enough to have an entire classroom to use, or you might be stuck in a tiny practice room. You might be extra lucky and have a dedicated studio space of your own that no one else uses!
Regardless of room size, the first priority is to create a setup that allows your student to play their instrument without feeling cramped. If you use a shared space, this might mean that you need to arrive early and reorganize the room a little. Don't be afraid to move desks out of the way, push that grand piano into the corner of the room, or exile all those chairs to the edges of your teaching space. It's worth it to avoid turning out students with cramped, furtive playing posture.
Studios need stuff! A basic studio starter kit should include:
Beyond the basics, I like to have:
If you're just starting out, you probably won't be able to make your studio space exactly like you want it. That's just part of the process. Start with one thing on this list, and once that's squared away, move on to the next. Teaching is a living thing, and it evolves. So will your studio.
I spent about a full day last week tinkering with a new look for the website; I wanted something that was more readable and bolder than the last template I used. I also put the finishing touches on the individual pages that I've created for my students. Now they have a unified place to go for lesson notes, scheduling, and bill payment, which makes it more convenient and also reduces the likelihood of important information getting buried in email in-boxes.
I'm curious to know what you think! Do you like the changes? Are there any others you would make? Share your suggestions in the comments, and if I use one, I'll send you a coupon code for a free download of my book, The Conservatory Boot Camp Workbook. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!